Is Retail Really Dead, Or Are We Misreading the Numbers?

Customer reviews, client reviews, best PR firm, public relations, content marketingby Justin Grensing, Esq., MBA


We keep hearing about how the growth in online retail represents the ultimate demise of the brick-and-mortar retail store. We hear how online retail giants like Amazon are killing Main Streets across the country, and we hear anecdotes of local brick-and-mortar businesses closing their doors, blaming the rise in online retail. But does that common sentiment assign blame where it belongs?

Indeed, ecommerce is growing fast. Digital Commerce 360 reported that online retail spending in the U.S. increased by 16 percent between 2016 and 2017, representing nearly half of the growth in retail sales.

What Are The Numbers Really Telling Us?

But these numbers can be deceiving. Even though ecommerce represents nearly half the total retail growth, online retail sales still represented only 13 percent of total retail sales. While the market appreciates the convenience and selection made possible by online retail, consumers — to a large extent — still do their shopping in person.

There are a number of reasons for this. As Marketing Land writes, “While people relish the convenience and vast inventory available via online shopping, today’s shoppers are still drawn to physical store locations to tangibly touch items, make purchases and process returns or exchanges.”

The key here is that people often put too much emphasis on growth over current, absolute percentages. Growth rates can be deceiving when the starting point is very small.

Growth vs. Market Share

Writing for Forbes, Kurt Jetta, CEO and founder of TABS Analytics, provides a specific example of how we often attribute too much importance to growth as opposed to current market share. “Take online grocery. Our fourth annual Food and Beverage Report revealed that online grocery share is anemic, struggling to reach the 2% share mark. Less than 5% of adults make at least six online purchases per year. By contrast, 78% of adults purchase regularly at traditional grocery stores, and 56% shop at Walmart. The survey also showed online shopping grew by 14% compared to only 2% growth for physical stores.”

It’s certainly true that online retail is becoming an increasingly important player in the overall retail world. And even losing 13 percent of sales to another medium can have a major impact on a brick-and-mortar business, particularly in industries with low margins that rely on volume to turn a profit. But focusing too much on growth without looking at current market share can overstate the dominance of ecommerce. Based on the numbers, it’s still largely a brick-and-mortar world.

Providing Valued Consumer Experiences

And that’s good news for all the existing—and potential—brick and mortar businesses out there. For those that can come up with relevant and compelling ways to provide valued experiences to customers, the future looks bright!

When we hear news stories about a local brick-and-mortar business closing its doors after being in operation for generations, the presumed culprit is often the growth of online retail, which grew by 16 percent between 2016 and 2017. People just don’t want to go to a store to make purchases anymore, the logic goes. Online shopping offers far more choices than can be offered in a physical location — which can’t store infinite inventory — and it’s so much more convenient to shop online instead of going to a store.

But don’t make the mistake of writing off in-store shopping. You may be surprised to learn that consumers still predominantly favor the in-store experience!

Business Wire reported on a recent study that found 65 percent of Americans prefer shopping at physical stores to see and touch a product before shopping. This is known as the “tactile” experience: the ability to pick up and hold something or feel it before making the purchase. How often have you ordered clothes online to find they don’t fit as you expected? Or purchased something decorative online and discovered it isn’t the same size as you expected or the colors aren’t as appealing to you as they were in the online photos?

According to the data reported by Business Wire, Americans pointed specifically to the following benefits they find when buying a product at a store versus shopping online:

  • Being able to get exactly the thing they want – 62 percent
  • The immediacy of the experience – 61 percent
  • Being able to see the product before it is delivered – 58 percent
  • Having a hands-on experience with the product before purchasing – 53 percent
  • Being able to ensure that the product being purchased is undamaged – 53 percent

This data doesn’t mean that in-store retail will always be preferable relative to online. Clearly some industries lend themselves more to online retail than others. The importance of the tactile experience is diminished when it comes to purchasing items like cleaning products, printer cartridges, a new charger for your phone, etc. Also, online shopping is great when we’re buying a brand-name product we’re familiar with and don’t need to re-evaluate — a favorite perfume, a replacement pair of jeans or new golf balls. Additionally, online retail offers many benefits, such as consumer reviews, easy price comparison and convenience.

Online retail is an important part of today’s retail environment, but it has a long way to go before it overtakes brick-and-mortar. The key for marketers is to determine which medium is most conducive to their industry and their offerings. And don’t make the mistake of thinking it needs to be a one-or-the-other decision. Many marketers effectively combine the online retail experience with their brick-and-mortar stores.

How you can leverage both online and offline shopping experiences to boost your bottom line?


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Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We are adept at evaluating and analyzing communication efforts and working with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content, through both on- and offline media to achieve desired results. Our background in business journalism, marketing, PR/media relations and online communications makes us well-positioned to serve the needs of 21st-century marketers.

We serve clients who are looking for help creating content for a wide array of channels—from social media posts to full-length manuscripts, and everything in between. We focus primarily on service-related B2B topics and work with a number of independent consultants interested in building their thought leadership through online channels. For ongoing content management, our first step is to fully understand your goals, objectives and competitive landscape.

Then we’ll conduct a thorough analysis and assessment of your digital presence, compared to competitors, and recommend a communication strategy to achieve your goals. But, we also regularly take on individual projects – white papers, blog posts, contributed articles, etc. If you’re interested in learning more, let us know!

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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